Michelle Lewis and Charles Hannah founded Third Eye Books in 2019, with the goal of supplying Portland with African and African-American books, accessories, and gifts.
To get to know this Portland-based, independent bookstore little better, we interviewed Michelle and Charles about their upcoming storefront opening, what books they like to recommend to readers, and more.
Third Eye Books is our bookselling partner for the Hood Feminism with Mikki Kendall event on June 9 at 4:00 p.m. (Pacific). Purchase your copy of Hood Feminism from Third Eye Books in hardcover or paperback!
You launched Third Eye Books in 2019. What inspired you to start selling books?
Michelle: My husband and I are avid readers; we both grew up in homes where reading was highly encouraged by our parents. Reading has always been my go-to “get away” from it all, and I’ve always felt that reading allowed me to go anywhere in the world that I wanted to, and it expanded my imagination tenfold.
We were inspired to open a bookstore after the bookstore Reflections / Talking Drum Bookstore closed its doors in 2012. It was located in NE Portland, and owned by Gloria McMurtry and Elder O.B. Hill. We were regulars at their bookstore. It was wonderful to have a place within our community where we both could go to connect with other Black folks who lived in the community, as well as to find books that centered African-American history and experience, urban fiction, Black children’s books, and much more.
We understood how much it meant to members of the community to lose a gem like that. When the doors closed my husband and I had it on our list of dreams to open another bookstore in an effort to create a space that continued the legacy of Reflections / Talking Drum Bookstore. It is our intention that everyone will see Third Eye Books as a place where they can reconnect/connect with one another, especially after so much loss and pain has been experienced by so many during this global pandemic.
You’re set to open a new brick-and-mortar space (at SE Division and 33rd Avenue) on June 20th! What are you most excited for with the space?
Charles: We are most excited to be finally able to interact with customers and community members in the store and at events. COVID-19 forced us to pivot online, which was great, but not the same as talking to other book lovers. We miss the excitement of families browsing, and children picking up books. In addition, we are excited to offer the store/space to the community to be used as a resource for aspiring artists or up and coming authors to showcase their work.
“It is our intention that everyone will see Third Eye Books as a place where they can reconnect/connect with one another, especially after so much loss and pain has been experienced by so many during this global pandemic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for us all, and especially so for small business owners. What is the best thing folks can do to support their local, independent bookstore as we move toward recovery?
Michelle: We encourage community members to see the value in supporting small, indie bookstores. We are needed. We serve the community as well as individuals in ways that often can not be replicated online. Small, indie bookstores offer customers a welcoming place where folks can come together, feel comfortable and at ease, explore and find books that expand your knowledge, and spark the creative thought processes.
I believe indie bookstores create spaces that enrich community building. This is needed more than ever with the current political climate. When community members spend their hard earned dollars locally, purchasing books and other items at indie bookstores, they are supporting the local economy. Not only are you getting an awesome book to read, but the money you spend stays in the community.
The pandemic has hit so many businesses hard; many have had to close their doors and many others, including ours, are still in the recovery phase. So, when customers shop locally, it helps us to keep our doors open. We also encourage group buying, encourage employers to make bulk purchases, share our website with friends and family members, offer space advertisement in newsletters and other promotional materials.
And speaking of it being a challenging year: Amid all the difficulties, what has brought you joy, comfort, and/or relief during this past year?
Charles: What brings us comfort and joy is exposing new readers to the great literary works of master writers such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston and Dr. John Henrik Clarke, to name a few. It has been our experience that our bookstore is becoming a “doorway” for customers to meet some of these great writers and their contributions toward the Black experience in America and around the world. Also, we get a kick when we are able to procure that obscure and/or that hard to find book for a customer and deliver it to their mailbox.
You’re the official bookseller for our event with Mikki Kendall, author of Hood Feminism, on June 9th. Aside from Hood Feminism, do you have other favorite books to recommend to readers?
Michelle: We recommend the following books to readers: How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, any book written by James Baldwin (especially If Beale Street Could Talk and The Fire Next Time), Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer are just a few we encourage readers to check out.